To connoisseurs, elegant lead crystal means Ireland, where mouth-blown, full-lead pieces have been made for centuries.
Irish crystal does come dear, but a relatively young Irish company, Tipperary Crystal, offers a line that equals the quality of the famous Waterford but sells for about 30% less.
According to Bernadette Ryan, who owns the Grafton Shoppe in New York City and the Irish Shoppe in Block Island, R.I., the crystal is one of the best-selling lines at these two Irish crafts stores.
"My customers buy it for special occasions, especially for weddings and anniversaries," she says. It also is much more readily available than Waterford, she adds. Many of the pieces are engraved, either with initials or with dedications for special events--"a nice alternative to silver."
Tipperary might be considered a lineal descendant of Waterford because it is run by a group of former Waterford craftsmen who formed the new company in the wake of Waterford's restructuring a little over two years ago. A leader of the group, Joseph Foley, was a 24-year Waterford veteran who took advantage of a restructuring buyout option and found a backing partner to start the company. The group makes crystal the traditional way by mouth-blowing, then hand-cutting each individual piece. The lead content is over 33%, which gives the crystal strength and durability, and imparts a slight bluish color. Cutting serves the same function as faceting in gems, adding sparkle and iridescence.
Traditional suites, or patterns, are named after landmarks near the company's cottage factory in Ballynoran, County Tipperary: "Carrick," after the historic village; "Slievenamon," named for the legendary mountain; and "Dovehill," a Norman castle once commanded by Connet O'Moore, a 14th-Century Irish chieftain.
Ryan says one of the most attractive ways to display crystal is to mix patterns. And: "Use it every day. It's meant to be enjoyed."
The combination of quality and price (a water goblet will sell for about $40, a wineglass for $33) has made it popular with Americans, who make up much of its market, according to the company.
The crystal, imported through Kraftware/Morgan in New York, is sold at Irish and other specialty shops as well as through the P.J. Carroll catalogue (800) 255-3933.